The Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, by Baton Rouge police on Tuesday, the New York Times reports. The incident was partially captured on video. “I have very serious concerns,” Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards said. “The video is disturbing, to say the least.”
Sterling was shot and killed outside a grocery store where he’d been selling music CDs. Two officers, responding to a call about a man who’d threatened someone with a gun, held Sterling on the ground. In the leaked video, a voice says, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” One officer draws his weapon, and then fires it into Sterling’s chest and back, killing him. Police have not disclosed whether Sterling had a gun, or if he did, whether he threatened the officers with it.
Police identified the officers involved as Blaine Salamoni, a four-year veteran of the force, and Howie Lake II, a three-year veteran. The governor endorsed the federal takeover of the case, the Times reports, promising the cooperation of the State Police. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the FBI, and the United States Attorney’s Office in Baton Rouge will conduct the investigation.
“This community deserves an answer,” State Representative C. Denise Marcelle said at a news conference. Police told Marcelle in a briefing that the officers had been wearing body cameras and that they fell off during their confrontation with Sterling. Marcelle also said that police had seized footage from surveillance cameras at the grocery store.
“There are no criminal charges pending against anyone as far as we know,” Edmond Jordan, a lawyer for the Sterling family who is also a state representative, said. “So why are they holding on to this video?”